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Army Relaunches FCS Son

The Army finally kicked off the competition today to develop son of the Future Combat System after scrapping the earlier RFP which the Army decided pushed the technology envelope too far.

Reflecting the cost sensitive environment the Pentagon faces, service officials unveiled a fixed price contracting strategy to develop an Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) capable of operating in everything from major armored fights to counterinsurgency missions. Translation: the new FCS will largely be a replacement for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

To do this, the Army will award up to three contracts in April 2011 totalling no more that $450 million each for manufacturers to come up with the best possible design, according to Col. Andrew DiMarco, the Army's program manager for the Ground Combat Vehicle effort (which the IFV falls under).

After 24 months of technology development, the service plans to select up to two competitors to continue a four-year engineering, manufacturing development effort, after which the service will pick a winner to build 1,874 of the IFVs, DiMarco said. Those vehicles are currently projected to cost $9 million to $10.5 million apiece, not including the cost of spare parts and other support items.

The Army also wants the vehicles to cost $200 per operating mile. This falls between the $100 per mile of the Bradley and the $300 per mile of the M1 Abrams tank.

The new troop carriers must meet "non-negotiable" criteria for protection against everything from cannon rounds and RPGs to explosively formed penetrators, along with the ability to accommodate future growth in terms of size, weight, power and network connectivity as well as carry nine soldiers, said Michael Smith of the Army's Maneuver Center of Excellence during a conference call with reporters today.

However, the rest of the vehicle's performance will largely be up to contractors to determine as long as they meet minimum criteria.

"The bulk of the tradable requirements, we left that up to industry to figure out how to best to balance their design together with the affordability pieces presented in the RfP," said DiMarco.

With regards to firepower, "we have a requirement to take out certain threats at certain ranges, that has been included in the tradespace so we're leaving it up to industry to respond to that," said DiMarco.

Still, "we don't want to go anything less that what the current M2 Bradley has on it" in terms of firepower, he added. For the majority of the open (trade space) requirements there are no similar caveats, according to DiMarco.

The Army dropped any requirement that the vehicle must fit on a C-130 tactical airlifter and instead requires it to fit on the much larger C-17 strategic lifter. As for the venerable wheels-versus-tracks debate, that will be up to contractors to decide.

Asked how the service will keep a competition with such wide open requirements from being protested by the losing bidder, DiMarco said the service has placed higher values on certain design features over others.

"From a performance perspective, we've prioritized the requirements, " said DiMarco. "From that perspective, we can make some judgements on value that one design or one contractor brings to the table over the others."

Proposals for the vehicles are due on Jan. 24, 2011.

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